Affordable Care Act

HHS Secretary Visits Houston, Says Gov. Perry Refusing Federal Funds For Women’s Health

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, visited Houston today. She toured Ben Taub General Hospital and spoke to a national gathering of medical students. She also stepped squarely into the ongoing political debate in Texas over women’s health funding

Sebelius took a guided tour of Ben Taub’s ER and saw a quick demonstration of Harris County’s computerized records. The system allows medical data to be shared between clinics, and lets the emergency room connect with ambulances.

Sebelius says that coordination will be crucial in 2014 when more Texans qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But the Secretary had a more immediate controversy to address. And that was her disagreement with Governor Perry  over whether Planned Parenthood clinics could be excluded from a Medicaid program that pays for women’s gynecological exams.

“That really violates long-standing Medicaid policy which says that woman have the right to choose their own providers. And right now about 50 percent of the women in the Texas medical program choose Planned Parenthood as a provider.” 

Perry said Thursday that he would forgo the federal dollars rather than compromise on that point—and he vowed to find state dollars to make up the $35 million loss.

Sebelius said the program has been unfairly caught up in abortion politics.

“It is illegal to spend any federal dollars in abortion. This has nothing to do with abortion. This is women choosing cervical cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, well-woman visits, family planning access at a provider of her choice. So what we have notified Texas is that this does indeed violate federal policy. We will begin a phase-out program of federal dollars.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee scoffed at Perry’s proposal, saying there’s no guarantee he will be able to replace the program with something just as good using only state funds.

“There is no proof or documentation of any money that the governor has. So in actually it may be that these women will just not have any health care. So that’s what they lose. They lose on a promise.”

The program serves 130,000 low-income women in Texas, paying for contraception, Pap smears and breast exams they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Democratic Congressman Gene Green says he’s exploring ways to keep the federal funds flowing to Texas, but without interference from the state.

“If Texas makes a decision, these are federal Medicaid dollars, we could bypass the state and come directly to some entity, like a Harris County Hospital District or Dallas County, or some entity, so we’re going to be looking at that on the legislative side.”

Sebelius says that for now, Medicaid will begin withdrawing the funds from Texas beginning in May.